An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"

By Jeff Lauck ’18

A few weeks ago one of our readers posted a comment on one of our blog posts asking for a “best guess” as to when slavery would have ended in the South had the Confederacy been successful in winning its independence. There is, of course, no easy answer to this question, as counter-factual history is just that: not factual. However, the question is an important one that deserves attention and at the very least can be used to explore some ways in which slavery can be contextualized in the Civil War era.

The Confederacy was founded on the idea of preserving the institution of slavery. The short-lived nation’s need for slavery was economic as well as social. Economically, the South depended on an agrarian economy driven chiefly by cotton production. Cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, required large labor forces to produce. Consequently, profit margins depended on decreasing the cost of labor. Therefore, cotton’s profitability–and thus the economy of the South–benefited immensely from slavery. A change in the workforce would have severely disrupted the status quo. Poor Southerners, who may not have owned slaves, also saw the economic trickle-down effects of slavery: wealthy planters required food, tools, and other goods to keep the system of slavery running, and of these supplies would be supplied by yeomen farmers and craftsmen. As a result, many white Southerners who were neither wealthy nor owned slaves were also economically invested in the institution of slavery.

 When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget it's human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget its human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"”

From Post to Park: The Fort Monroe National Monument

By Kaylyn Sawyer ’17

The Civil War Institute will be celebrating the National Park Service Centennial this spring with its brand new “Find Your Park Friday” series. Inspired by the NPS #FindYourPark campaign, the series will challenge our fellows to share their experiences exploring America’s national historical, cultural, and natural resources through trips and internships with the NPS. In our sixth post,  Kaylyn Sawyer takes a look at the history of her park.

I was 11 years old when I made my first visit to Fort Monroe for a military ID card. This small Army post, I was told, would have a shorter line than the more familiar and populated Langley Air Force Base. Although already interested in Civil War history, I didn’t know much about the fort’s story, and I had no idea that I would return in seven years for my first history internship. Finally, I didn’t know that Fort Monroe had been targeted for closure by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). Concerned about preserving the Fort’s historic integrity amidst calls for economic development, local citizens mobilized in collaboration with leaders across all levels of government to guide Fort Monroe’s transition from post to park.

An aerial view of Fort Monroe. Photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.
An aerial view of Fort Monroe. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

William Link
Bill Link. Image courtesy of the University of Florida.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the historians scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with William A. Link, the Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida. Link’s publications include: A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870-1920 (UNC Press, 1986), The Paradox of Southern Progressivism 1880-1920 (UNC Press, 1992), Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (UNC Press, 2002), and most recently, Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

CWI:  What were the defining elements of the New South?  What were some of the major forces and players who helped to create the New South?

LINK: Henry W. Grady, newspaper editor and publicist, perhaps became best known for popularizing the concept of the New South. In 1886, speaking before a distinguished group of northerners in New York City—which included Gen. William T. Sherman—Grady explained how a New South arose following the end of the Civil War. “We have let economy take root and spread among us as rank as the crabgrass which sprang from Sherman’s cavalry camps,” he declared, “until we are ready to lay odds on the Georgia Yankee, as he manufactures relics of the battlefield in a one-story shanty and squeezes pure olive oil out of his cotton-seed, against any downeaster that ever swapped wooden nutmegs for flannel sausages in the valleys of Vermont.” The New South, a term in common usage during the period after Reconstruction up until the early 20th century, became both an ideological construct and a social movement. It was a device, above all, serving to describe how the region was open for business to northern investors. According to Grady’s New South, adopted in what amounted to a social movement by promoters and boosters to define the South differently, the region was no longer dependent on slavery, fully reconciled to the Union, but also fully invested in the principle of white supremacy. Continue reading “The Invention of the New South? An Interview with William A. Link”

Challenging Lincoln: How Gettysburg’s Lincoln-centric Emancipation Narrative Has Overshadowed Local Black History

By Jeff Lauck ’18

When it comes to symbols of emancipation, President Abraham Lincoln is king. No other person is more associated with the abolition of slavery than “The Great Emancipator” himself. This holds true in Gettysburg just as much as it does throughout the country. Only last September, Gettysburg College erected a statue of Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in the hope that it would “promote the discussion of race relations in America today.” Yet when it comes to commemorating and remembering the struggle for emancipation, Lincoln is far from the only face that we should look to in our historic town.

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Abraham Lincoln has been forever linked to Gettysburg thanks to his famed “Gettysburg Address.” Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The borough has a long and rich history of both slavery and liberation. The first African Americans to arrive in Gettysburg did so as slaves to Alexander Dobbin, the Presbyterian minister who founded a classical school in the soon-to-be-incorporated town. The Dobbin House, today a colonial tavern and eatery, was built in 1776 by Dobbin’s slaves. James Gettys, the borough’s founder and namesake, also owned a slave named Sydney O’Brien. For reasons unknown, Gettys freed O’Brien and gave her a house in the southwest corner of the town, close to the Dobbin family home. Thus was born Gettysburg’s free African American community. Continue reading “Challenging Lincoln: How Gettysburg’s Lincoln-centric Emancipation Narrative Has Overshadowed Local Black History”

Reconstruction in the North and South: An Interview with Andrew Slap

By Ashley Whitehead Luskey

Dr. Andrew Slap
Dr. Andrew Slap

Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the prominent speakers scheduled to speak at the 2016 CWI conference about their upcoming talks and their thoughts about Reconstruction and its legacies. Today, we’re speaking with Andrew Slap, Associate Professor of History at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several books, including The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republican in the Civil War Era (Fordham University Press, 2006)He is also the editor of This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions About the Civil War-Era North (Fordham University Press, 2013) and Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath (The University Press of Kentucky, 2010). Slap serves as the series editor for “Reconstructing America” and “The North’s Civil War,” both published through Fordham University Press.

CWI: How was Reconstruction in the North similar to, and different from, Reconstruction in the South?  What challenges or opportunities existed in the North, and for whom, during the era of Reconstruction?

SLAP: Reconstruction in the North was strikingly different than Reconstruction in the South. For the South, Reconstruction meant massive upheaval (including almost four million African American slaves becoming free citizens), an occupying army, and having to rebuild an economy devastated by armies fighting across the South for years. By contrast, Reconstruction in the North was more about opportunities created by the war, and these extended throughout northern society. Economic legislation passed during the Civil War, such as the Homestead Act and the Transcontinental Railroad, helped open the West to new waves of settlers. Many veterans left the army ready to improve their lives with bonus money, new networks of friends, and a sense of optimism. Debates about African American voting rights helped spur the Women’s suffrage movement, including the Wyoming Territory’s women’s suffrage provision in 1870 and Victoria Woodhull becoming the first female candidate for president of the United States in 1872. Continue reading “Reconstruction in the North and South: An Interview with Andrew Slap”

“The Colored Soldiers”—The Poem You Never Knew Existed

By Matt LaRoche ’17

I’m a poetry guy. When I expect to have some free time, I tend to carry a small book of poems somewhere on my person. I also have eclectic tastes, so the subject and the substance of my little pocket anthologies changes. This summer, while at home from Gettysburg National Military Park, I pulled a book off the shelf—War Poems, from the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series. I found plenty of what you might expect to find in such a book—Lord Tennyson, Wilfred Owen, Randall Jarrell. The subjects were classic—the “wild charge” of the Light Brigade, the “froth-corrupted lungs” of gassed men on the Western Front, the callous “hose” that washes out the wet scraps of the tragic turret gunner. Most of the poems I had already read before, so I was doubly surprised to find—in an anthology of war poems spread across the full breadth of both the Western and Eastern traditions of war verse—Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “The Colored Soldiers,” published posthumously in 1913.

"Dutch Gap, Virginia. Picket station of Colored troops near Dutch Gap canal." Courtesy of Library of Congress, via the House Divided Project.
“Dutch Gap, Virginia. Picket station of Colored troops near Dutch Gap canal.” Courtesy of Library of Congress, via the House Divided Project.

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The Harris Family’s Tale of Woe on the Erie Canal

By Tiffany Santulli ’13

In 1850 terror swept through the African American population with the updated installment of the Fugitive Slave Act. Now all citizens were required to aid in the capture of any fugitive slaves they encountered, or face heavy fines or even jail time. While this law was directed toward runaway slaves, free black people still had a great deal to fear. Anyone could accuse them of being a runaway slave and if they were brought before a judge the law worked against them because the court would receive more money if a black person were declared a slave rather than free. The threat of the Fugitive Slave Act forced many free black people in the lower free states, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, to abandon their homes and push northwards to escape the scope and reach of slave bounty hunters and accusatory neighbors.

One of these black families who fled was the Harris family. Catherine Harris, William Harris, and their three year old daughter left their home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and headed north towards Canada. In Albany, New York, the Harris family boarded a ship to travel on the Erie Canal during the chilly month of October. Little did this family know that this journey would ruin their lives.
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RATCO visits Gettysburg

By Allie Ward ’14

On March 28 a group of inspirational students from Selma, Alabama from the Random Acts of Theatre Company (RATCO) toured the Gettysburg Battlefield with CWI fellows and staff. Led by Dr. Peter Carmichael and Dr. Jill Titus, we endeavored to answer the difficult question of whether or not the Civil War was worth it. Many of us would answer this question with a resounding yes without realizing the extent to which the environment we were brought up in shaped this response. For the students of RATCO, who are growing up in a segregated community where the war of northern aggression is still taught in schools, “yes” is a much harder conclusion to reach.
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